Requiem for the Tea Party: Mitch McConnell comes packing

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) strode into the Conservative Political Action Conference this week packing heat. It was nothing fancy like a Glock 9 or Sig Sauer 45, but something more akin to Old Betsy, carried by Davy Crockett when he liberated Texas.

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Trusty sidekick Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) waved it aloft. Now, if it were Sarah Palin brandishing a tricked out AK, it might have caused a stir. But McConnell’s gesture represents this year’s CPAC; it is a symbol of empty gestures. The central theme this year, where New Jersey Governor Chris Christie brings them to their feet in ovation, is “the thrill is gone.” The Tea Party is over and we have forgotten what it was all about.

At a Tea Party gathering in New Hampshire in 2011, Tom Woods, author of Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century, gave a talk claiming new thinking was needed because politics today is dominated by mediocrities: Hillary Clinton on the left, and on the right, he said, Mitch McConnell.

Now McConnell is waving the rifle. Have no fear. We know him by his works, and he is neither hot nor cold. That was Woods's suggestion. The gathering back then was sponsored by the Tenth Amendment Center and this new thinking — old Jeffersonian thinking reawakened — appears to have slipped back with the tide, except in some regions already inclined to states rights, sound money and constitutional government like Texas. There, the Texas Public Policy Foundation today institutionalized some of these values to strengthen their state.

And today at CPAC, Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s (R) fledgling organization, Americans for Economic Freedom, advances this independent temperament that might be considered native to Texas as well, bringing it northward through the middle of the country and onward and upward to Gov.. Mike Pence's Indiana and Gov. Sam Brownback’s Kansas. There are clever and original minds on hand, like Newt Gingrich, who will speak Saturday at CPAC, and economist Art Laffer, but it is a work in progress and still at a formative stage. Potentially it can advance and institutionalize some of the original Tea Party thinking into actual state practice — and bring these states into competition with other states.

But this is where it went wrong in the Tea Party: They continued to look to Washington as they denounced Washington at every turn. They wanted to take over Washington. They wanted to be Washington. Now, with McConnell brandishing aloft his rusty old front loader, they are.